Saturday, 10 June 2017

"Extremis"/"The Pyramid at the End of the World"/"The Lie of the Land"

The longest collective title since 1979 heralds the arrival of the longest story since 1979. Like "The Girl Who Died"/"The Woman Who Lived", this is the work of more than one director and more than one writer but it does tell a more linear story than the tale which introduced Me, in this tale of the sinister Monks. However, each episode has its own particular qualities which should be addressed separately.

The reality bending "Extremis" is an episode that must surely rank with the finest Moffat penned stories. It is scary, thought provoking, human and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The concept of the Veritas and the Haereticum hints at what The Da Vinci Code would have been like, had it been written by someone who could write coherent sentences, and the way in which a covert collection of cardinals can crash Bill’s attempt to have a date is farce of the most exquisite variety.¤ A story that hinges on suicide moves the programme into potentially very dark areas, but Moffat is easily skilful enough to make it work, as the very notion of epistemological reality is brought into question. When we realise that none of what we have seen is true, we are not disappointed because we are given the irresistible notion that a computer simulation of Doctor Who has made an episode of Doctor Who for Doctor Who to watch!

"The Pyramid at the End of the World" takes us into the real(ish) world with the juggling of the accidental release of a potential genetically engineered pandemic with the modus operandi of the monks all wrapped up in the cosiness of a UNIT story without actually having UNIT there. Moffat’s collaboration with Peter Harness, whilst lacking the flagrant inventiveness of "Extremis" is an exciting and fresh way in harmonising two quintessential Doctor Who plotlines – the man-made threat to Earth and the alien invasion. The treatment of international politics is simple without seeming simplistic – a hard line to walk and we have an all-time classic scene to conclude the episode – where the battle is lost because our heroes succumb to both their best qualities and their worst judgement.

The dystopia of "The Lie of the Land" has hints of both "Last of the Time Lords" and "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon" and, for the most part holds its own in its story of a renegade Time Lord holding sway over a world ruled by cadaverous creatures who can bend our perception of reality. However, we know this Time Lord all too well and it is clear the Doctor has a plan to defeat his enemies. The plan involves a key phrase that has formed a rather egregious nodule in the 2017 zeitgeist – 'fake news' and, it could be argued that the solution seems strangely lightweight (although perfectly sound) for such a long story and, skilful as its execution is, one is left feeling slightly unsatisfied - perhaps, inevitably, it is the only episode that would not work as a stand-alone story with a few tweaks.

The direction is excellent throughout, with Daniel Nettheim and Wayne Yip doing sterling work. "Extremis", in particular, is a wonder of dynamic pacing and variant tones like a visual Cardiacs song. In the whole story, sequence after sequence sticks in the mind - the pyramid neutralising the threats against it, the reality boosts that the Monks broadcast, and, of course, the nail-biting sequence that concludes "The Pyramid at the End of the World". Even when spectacular effects are commonplace, this story contains sequences that impress - the pyramid capturing the bomber, the montage of the Monks throughout history and prehistory and, of course, the horrifying appearance of the Monks themselves. There are real scares in the story - the disintegration of Douglas is genuinely shocking. The three regulars are spectacular, with Matt Lucas showing a range that few knew he had - his horror at discovering he is only a simulation is palpable. Pearl Mackie is fast heading towards making Bill my favourite companion with another arresting performance. And then, there's our leading man. Capaldi never lets us go and the sequence where he seems to confirm to Bill that he has joined the Monks is breath-taking. Michelle Gomez makes a very welcome return, solving the mystery of who is in the vault and her performance leaves us guessing as to what Missy is truly up to. We have a fine selection of guest actors. Tony Gardner is always a welcome addition and we have great turns by Ivanno Jeremiah, Corrado Invernizzi, Rachel Denning, Togo Igawa and many others.

This very ambitious story promises a lot, but, ultimately, is very slightly less than the sum of its parts, which is a real shame as it could have ended up as one of the crowning achievements of Moffat's Doctor Who. However, each episode is, at the very least good and, at best, brilliant. The Monks are defeated rather quickly but, I doubt we have heard the last of them...

NEXT: "The Empress Of Mars"

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